The four-year-old boy's eyes smiled at me and said: I have a future
Published 21/01/2010 | 05:00
I cannot explain how I can feel happy when looking at the infected, stagnant mess of a young child's amputated foot. Yet strangely, in my clinic today, I did.
It was not the foot of course, but the face. The child smiled, his four-year-old eyes bright as buttons. They said to me: "I have a future."
For a brief moment the eyes dulled when he screamed in pain as I tried gently to remove the dressing from his infected stump.
Yet the pain soon settled and the smile returned, as the wound was washed clean.
Yes, I thought, the first shoots of recovery are beginning to appear in Haiti. Say what you like about failings in security or co-ordination, as well as delays in the provision of aid. You would be right. For those of us in the field, these things drive us crazy, too.
I am luckier than most, as the organisation for which I'm working, Merlin, is widely known and has been dealing with disasters for more years than many can remember.
However, slowly the rubble is beginning to clear, the frightened are returning to work and new alliances are being forged. The resilience of mankind is remarkable.
The clinic was chaotic yesterday, patients jostling and queue-barging, everyone insisting they had to be first.
The man whose head is still leaking cerebrospinal fluid from his skull fracture; the boy with the massive tumour in his neck; the child with the broken shoulder which has lain undiagnosed so far; the elderly lady with the broken sternum and for whom every breath was agony. She had lain trapped for three days before rescue.
Then there is the young girl with frequent blackouts since the earthquake, who is claiming that a rock fell on her head at the time.
I could find no evidence of damage, although that did not surprise me. This was manifestly post-traumatic stress.
The pattern of injury is now beginning to change.
In the early days, after the earthquake, there were amputations by the hundred, head injuries and fractures.
Now I am seeing many infections while tetanus, the scourge of contaminated wounds, has today arrived in Haiti.
Everyone has been affected. However, yesterday, a number of stories of true heroism emerged.
The man who held up a wall so his family could escape, before the collapsing property crushed him dead. The husband who was forced to take a machete to his wife's foot, to release her from beneath massive rubble.
How would any of us react in such a circumstance?
Richard Villar, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at The Wellington Hospital, London, leads the emergency surgical team in Haiti for Merlin, the medical aid agency